*“Omar Godknow” (“O my God, no”) was Christopher Raeburn (one of the producers and eventually head of Decca Opera Recordings) and “B. Fasolt” is an anagram of the words "Fat slob", referring to Terry McEwen, who ran Decca/London’s New York office.
This is a pioneering stereo recording done by some of the best sound engineers in the business. The fifty-one year old recording was already a sonic marvel which could only be improved by Andrew Rose giving it the usual Pristine XR re-mastering treatment. It remains my favourite version despite some stiff competition from Krauss, again with Gueden in 1950, and Karajan with Schwarzkopf in 1955. There is here a joie de vivre from a matchless ensemble which is all the more apparent in its new incarnation. About this Rose writes that it has “more immediacy, vibrancy and sense of dimension [and] really does breathe new life into a classic.” It’s a dashing performance with a breathless, heady excitement about it that convinces me afresh that this is the most tuneful music ever written.
Gueden is foxy charm itself. She sings enticingly with sparkling
élan; Köth is a winning soubrette, witty and sharp; Kmentt,
Berry, Wächter and Zampieri are all Vienna regulars with lovely
voices. They are happy to camp it up just a little to bring
out the full, farcical fun. Resnik is a rich-voiced and rather
butch, convincing Orlovsky. Erich Kunz’s ludicrous, echt-Viennese
accent and drunken clowning as Frosch are the best on record.
Pristine here omits the ballet music and Gala concert (with
contributions from Renata Tebaldi, Fernando Corena, Birgit Nilsson,
Mario del Monaco, Teresa Berganza, Joan Sutherland, Jussi Björling,
Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Ettore Bastianini and Ljuba
Welitsch) although these are available on a separate Pristine
disc with four other Johann Strauss II overtures and waltzes
from the early 1940s as a bonus. Pristine chose to do so on
the grounds that although that music was on the original premium-price
opera label issue then being launched, it was omitted from the
1962 SXL set. As the “Gramophone” critic noted in 1960, for
some listeners its inclusion would surely constitute "a
very considerable disruption of the kind of mood so far established".
Timings are very slightly faster than the Decca Originals issue
as, in Andrew Rose’s words, “Viennese tunings traditionally
tend to be slightly sharper than the standard A4=440Hz. The
recording came off the Decca LPs at A=449.24, but close analysis
of residual electrical hum suggested an original tuning of A=445.67,
and my restoration therefore adopts this pitch.”
If you already own, as I do, that Decca Originals set with the
Gala music and a physical libretto and are resistant to being
required to download, I wouldn’t rush off to buy this Pristine
issue. That said, the improvement in the quality of sound certainly
justifies the extra expense if you want to buy this recording
for the first time. Links to further notes, information on the
score and a libretto may be found on the Pristine website.